Apple has announced that one million iPhone 3GS units were sold during the phone's first three days of availability. Interestingly, this is the exact amount of time it took the iPhone 3G, released on 11-Jul-08, to clear one million units. The iPhone 3GS also launched in just eight countries, compared to 24 countries for the iPhone 3G launch. Despite the incredible anticipation and memorable images of lines spilling out of Apple retail stores, the original iPhone didn't hit the one million mark until 74 days after its release on 29-Jun-07.
Although it's interesting to compare these numbers, we have to take a number of factors into account, especially when considering the time it took the original iPhone to hit the one million mark. While the subsidized prices for the iPhone 3G 8 GB and 16 GB models were the same as for the iPhone 3GS 16 GB and 32 GB models - $199 and $299 respectively - the original iPhone's 4 GB and 8 GB models were priced at $499 and $599 (without subsidies). Selling at roughly double the cost and under first-generation scrutiny and skepticism, the original iPhone's 74-day wait to sell one million units is easily understandable.
It's also worth considering that since the original iPhone's debut, Apple has opened more retail stores, and a wider population has caught on to the iPhone phenomenon and even the concept of owning a smartphone. Additional years of marketing, positive reviews, and awards should also be acknowledged when considering the tremendous reduction in time it took both the iPhone 3G and 3GS to hit the one million milestone.
But how should we think about the apparently identical sales statistic for the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS? Some factors point to lowered expectations, such as the dour economy (the major bank failures that signaled the most serious phase of the economic crisis came after the release of the iPhone 3G in July 2008). Plus, at least in the United States, AT&T's fumbling of the iPhone 3GS upgrade pricing must have caused some people to hold off on upgrading (see "Call AT&T for the Best iPhone Upgrade Price", 2009-06-15, and "AT&T Improves and Clarifies iPhone Upgrade Eligibility", 2009-06-17). While AT&T eventually improved its wayward upgrade policy to be more friendly to loyal customers, initial reporting may still have negatively affected the first weekend of sales.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the iPhone 3GS could have exceeded the sales of its predecessor, given the additional year of marketing and press, and an improved list of specs for the same price points. This year's model also had the benefit of online pre-orders, with devices shipped free for arrival or available for pickup at an Apple Store on launch day. The iPhone 3G required in-person sales and activation at the beginning of its run.
Which generation's one-million-sold mark is the greater accomplishment is thus a difficult question to answer - but quite the enjoyable problem to have if you're Apple. Meanwhile, the demographics of who partook in this first weekend's shopping spree will likely remain unknown, though this year it likely contained a slew of generation-jumping owners of the original iPhone, a healthy dash of iPhone 3G upgraders, and likely some wide-eyed newcomers too.